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Communication Studies


West Sacramento looks for heart of city

by Leticia Valenzuela
Capital Campus News
Nov. 10, 2004

West Sacramento’s main thoroughfare has long time been associated with female streetwalkers in provocative clothes, half-lit yellow hotel signs that read “vacancy,” cracked sidewalks and vacant lots.

But with massive population growth and redevelopment occurring at city ends, officials have decided to unite residents together by reviving West Capitol as their core.

“We can’t be successful if we don’t have a heart,” said West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. “It’s not about developing the city, it’s about establishing a soul.”

Cabaldon and city council members have allocated $100,000 in city funds to develop a West Capitol Avenue Development strategy.

Mundi & Associates, a San Francisco based consulting firm, was hired by the city to analyze West Capitol’s problems and offer possible solutions. The firm’s assessment is expected to be concluded and presented to the council by November of this year.

“We can’t afford to have a city that’s divided,” said city Redevelopment Project Manager Maureen Pascoe. “That’s why we can’t afford not to develop West Capitol.”

A recent report by the State Department of Finance predicted that in the next five years West Sacramento’s recent population of 38,000 would increase by over 60,000 new residents.

Currently most of the city’s residential housing is at its northern and southern ends, a circumstance that has left the town center vacant and the community split in two.

This was not always the case, according to Pascoe. She said the strip was once populated by passing motorist and visiting tourists.

“West Capitol Avenue used to be the main route between Sacramento and the Bay Area,” she said. “The corridor was once the city’s largest commercial street.”

Pascoe said, the construction of Interstate 80 in 1954 took away most of the motorist traffic and caused a lack of demand for all the hotels motels and mini-marts, now associated with high crime and prostitution.

This unfavorable reputation has left West Capitol virtually ignored by big name investors, a trend that city officials hope will change with all the new residents and the street’s central location.

“West Capitol Avenue is the city’s main East-West corridor,” said Councilmember Bill Kristoff. “It’s only a matter of time before investors see how valuable the land is here.”

Although it may be hard for investors to see beyond the decrepit void of abandoned lots and budget motels that litter the street now, the city council is trying to prove it has faith in the strip’s potential.

“West Capitol Avenue hasn’t been the kind of place where you would want to take a stroll with your daughter on a Saturday,” said Cabaldon. “That’s what we’re trying to create with the West Capitol Avenue Development Strategy.”

The city’s latest strategy is actually an update to a 1992 Action Plan, according to Pascoe.
Both reports are expected to have some overlapping solutions, but she and other city officials are confident the city’s increasing population will ensure changes to the corridor will be made.

“All the new people living here are bringing in pressure to clean up West Capitol,” said Kristoff. “We are glad to finally have this opportunity.”

According to Mayor Pro-Tem Oscar Villegas, the redevelopment of West Capitol Avenue has always been an interest of city council. Early last year the council proved its long-term commitment to the project by building a new City Hall -West Sacramento Civic Center- on the strip between Jefferson Boulevard and Merkley Avenue.

“We’re trying to tell people, look, we’re taking the first step,” said Villegas.

Along with the addition of the Civic Center, the city has also approved plans for an improved public library and new senior care facility. According to Villegas both projects are only awaiting funds and could be expected within the next five years.

Villegas and other city officials have also backed legislation that would supply funds for the street’s redevelopment and overall upkeep.

According to Pascoe, the passage of Measure K last year allowed the city to use funds from a half-cent sales tax increase to employ two full-time police officers to patrol West Capitol Avenue, and also to make some overall landscape and maintenance improvements.

Measure T will be on this year’s ballot and will allocate about $280,000 for future redevelopment of the street by increasing the transient occupancy tax from 8 percent to 12 percent in West Sacramento hotels.

Even with increased taxes, city officials know the total redevelopment of West Capitol Avenue will not be possible without outside investors.

“The redevelopment of one block will cost approximately $1 million, said Pascoe.

The lack of public dollars to fund the project means city officials need to count on private investments, according to Villegas.

“We’ve got to position ourselves to make it by private investments,” he said.

“That is what is going to drive this thing.”

The city plans to bring in private investors for Victorian-like buildings that emulate that of the residential districts of the Midtown area in downtown Sacramento.

A current addition to the corridor that is expected to bring in more potential investors is a 2.5 acre parcel in purchasing agreement with Ramco Enterprises, Inc. and the Los Rios Community College District.

Located near the Civic Center at the corner of Merkley and West Capitol Avenue, the parcel is the purposed site for a new West Sacramento extension branch of Sacramento City College.

“We’ve got an agreement with the school,” said Ramco Vice President Dan Ramos. “The school has been working with the city, and now they’re in their final agreements to let the school go there.”

“Having a college branch on West Capitol Avenue is going to open up a whole lot of opportunities for us,” said Kristoff.

Although some city officials expect to see changes to the corridor within the next year, some residents remember when the first Action Plan was developed in 1992.

Julie Hobbs has lived off West Capitol her whole life and said she has heard all the city’s plans before.

“Now all they have to do is start doing it,” she said.

“I don’t think it will ever happen,” said life-long resident and local business owner Peter Palamidessi Sr. “There’s just too much blight in that area.”

Specific concerns that residents have about the strip are the unattractiveness of some of the businesses and, more importantly, the prostitution.

“They need to start by getting rid of the trashed and abandoned businesses,” said Hobbs.
“I think the street’s reputation for prostitution and low budget motels will affect future investments negatively,” said long-time resident Robert Greenhalgh.

“Investors want to build places where they know their patrons aren’t going to be harassed,” he said. “As long as the motels are still there, there is no guarantee that will ever be the case.”

But city officials say they are not too concerned about the businesses’ future.

“We don’t want to get rid of all the motels,” said Mayor Cabaldon. “We just want to make it so there is an equal supply of them for the current demand. Right now there is too much supply and not enough demand.”

According to Villegas, city officials are hoping that once heavy redevelopment begins on West Capitol Avenue, some business owners will decide to sell their property to private investors. Pascoe also said that those who decide to stay would be expected to meet a community standard for service and upkeep.

Although residents are not holding their breath on plans to resurrect West Capitol’s reputation, they do acknowledge the city’s efforts.

“I knew the street would make progress once I saw City Hall go in,” said Hobbs.

Regardless of the lack of faith, officials and residents both agree that if a solution isn’t found to draw more suitable businesses and people to the town’s true center, further developments at each end will surely leave the city divided.

“There needs to be a common place where we all can come together,” said Cabaldon. “Along West Capitol Avenue is that place.”

The final assessment report by Mundi & Associates will be available to the public after the first of the year according to Villegas. The 1992 Action Plan is available on the city’s redevelopment web page at